The Tammany Bank
by Sy Schreckinger – ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine – May, 1984
This month's topic of discussion is
a mechanical bank that represents a most controversial and colorful
episode in American history. Tammany Hall, the popular name of the
Democratic Party's executive committee of New York County, was infamous
during the nineteenth century for its widespread corruption.
As early as 1807, Tammany officials were involved in scandals which
resulted in their removal from office. Government mismanagement was
rampant, especially when "Boss" William M. Tweed, in 1868, completely
dominated the Hall. Tweed's corrupt behavior, which single-handedly cost
New York City more than $200,000,000, landed him in prison, where he
eventually died. His legacy was to link the words, "Tweed" and "Tammany"
with graft and corruption.
On December 23, 1873, John Hall, of Watertown, Massachusetts, was
granted Patent number
145,734 for his design and invention of the "Little
Fat Man Bank" (Fig. 1), which he later renamed the "Tammany Bank." The
bank, as eventually manufactured by the J. and E. Stevens Foundry, of
Cromwell, Connecticut, bore little resemblance to John Hall's original
patent drawings, other than the fact that the subject was a portly man
seated in a chair.
On June 8, 1875, Russel Frisbie, of Cromwell, Connecticut, assignor
to the J. and E. Stevens Co. was granted patent number
164,083 for his
invention and redesign of Hall's "Little Fat Man" bank (Fig. 2). Frisbie
utilized springs and levers in his bank to perform the action, unlike the
weights and counterbalances used by John Hall. (Incidentally, a most
interesting fact about the Tammany bank, as well as all mechanical banks
invented by John Hall, is that they only perform their action upon the
utilization and weight of a single coin.)
The Frisbie mechanical bank was never produced. Yet, it did bear an
uncanny resemblance to Hall's already manufactured Tammany bank.
On October 9,1877, John Hall was granted a RE-ISSUE for his patent,
7,904. These drawings most closely resemble the actual
Tammany production bank (Fig. 3). Moreover, it is within these patent
papers that Hall, for the first time, actually makes reference to the
name, "The Tammany Bank." As to the reason why he did this, I can only
offer speculation. Perhaps Boss Tweed's unsavory reputation would have
provided an added spark of interest in his "Little Fat Man Bank."
The Tammany bank has undergone several casting variations that seem
to follow the same evolutionary pattern as the previously described sets
of patent papers. One variation has only a "half scallop shell" design
cast into the sides of the chair, while another has the "half scallop
shell" design and the words, "Hall's Pat'd." And yet a third has the "half
scallop shell" design and the words, "Tammany Bank" cast into it. There
are also three distinctly different cast base plates. One utilizes the
round Stevens'-type coin trap for its coin removal; the second utilizes a
sliding coin trap; and the third has a rectangular perforated coin trap.
Besides the above casting variations, there are several color
differences. The Tammany Bank pictured in this article has pink,
flesh-colored face and hands, black hair, eyebrows and moustache, a white
shirt with a blue bow tie, a yellow vest with black buttons, and gray
pants with black shoes. He also sports a brown jacket. His chair is light
green with red trim. Cast into the back rim of the chair are the words, "Pat'd
Dec. 28, 1873."
In other color variations, the little man's jacket could be painted
black and his pants, brown. The chair could be either white or tan with
orange trim. Please take note that finding a Tammany bank in still another
color combination should not preclude its authenticity.
As to the action of the bank under discussion, an early J. and E.
Stevens Co. advertising flyer (Fig. 4) described it quite succinctly: "Put
a coin in his hand and see how promptly he pockets it and how politely he
bows his thanks."
Several years ago, a fellow bank collector offered an interesting
interpretation of the "Tammany bank's action: 'Assuming the bank was, in
fact, an effigy of the infamous Boss Tweed, the coin placed into his hand
might be likened to a bribe and the polite nod of his head, a confirmation
of a corrupt deed granted.' "
The Tammany bank gained great popularity during the period of its
manufacture, thus providing the impetus for almost unlimited production.
The overabundance of supply in the marketplace resulted in it becoming one
of the most common mechanicals. Nevertheless, this has not had any affect
on its popularity or desirability with today's bank collectors.
Because the Tammany bank has been reproduced, I am including a base
diagram showing its exact dimensions (Fig. 5). A reproduction will be
approximately one-eighth of an inch smaller than indicated.